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A form of gearbox technology originally developed for rally cars is being applied to a range of vehicles, from scooters to buses, to meet the challenges of developing markets.

Variable levels of driver skill mean that vehicle purchasers are attracted to the convenience and ease of operation offered by automatic transmissions, but the associated fuel consumption penalty and increase in vehicle cost is not acceptable in developing markets dominated by small, economical vehicles.

Technology consultancy Prodrive has demonstrated a range of automated manual transmission (AMT) solutions that can be scaled to suit a variety of applications; they require very little capital investment beyond existing manual gearbox production lines.

‘With our technology, the existing lines can manufacture a mix of both AMT and manual transmissions, opening up profitable new opportunities to meet growing market demand,’ said Simon Leleu, Prodrive’s team leader for transmission and driveline systems.

The practicality of replacing a conventional manual transmission with an AMT is underlined by the company’s ability to offer an external conversion to an existing transmission in some cases.

Leleu said: ‘Even the synchronisers from the original transmission can remain.

‘Our control system does not need dog engagement,’ he added.

Demonstrator vehicles can take as little as six months to deliver once initial feasibility has been confirmed.

Demand from truck and bus operators for improved fuel economy and resistance to abuse is creating an opportunity for AMT applications; bus passenger comfort also benefits from the improved shift quality resulting from automation.

Leleu continued: ‘There’s a reduction in the skill required to operate the vehicle.

‘This means less driver fatigue and reduces both transmission abuse and warranty costs,’ he said.

AMTs also offer potential as an alternative to CVTs for smaller two-, three- or four-wheeled vehicles.

A typical rubber belt CVT, while offering a low user skill requirement, suffers a substantial fuel consumption penalty, according to Prodrive.

The company’s control system expertise has been built up since the early 1990s on vehicles as varied as WRC rally cars, scooters and off-highway vehicles.

This capability has been demonstrated using a variety of bespoke and proprietary actuation systems: electric, hydraulic and even pneumatic.

The functionality of the completed installation can include such features as switchable fully automatic modes (such as performance or economy), driver intervention, hill hold and creep.

Prodrive claims that it takes a ‘whole-vehicle’ approach towards the control system development and calibration.

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